Eleven months. There is an awkwardness about the number 11. Prime numbers always feel that way. As regards time, it’s not quite a whole either. Our sages teach that we should cease saying Kaddish after 11 months to avoid connecting our parent with the period of judgment for a wicked person, which is said to be 12 months. So we say Kaddish for our parent for 11 months, and then we stop.
My father (Yehudah ben Avraham HaKohane) passed away last year and I have taken on the responsibility of trying to keep the mitzvah of saying Kaddish three times each day.
Our sages explain that this mitzvah has both spiritual and physical power, and that the process benefits both the soul of the departed and that of the mourner. While I am comforted by the notion that saying the Kaddish prayer is helping to raise my father’s soul to be closer and closer to God, I have to admit, I find this idea difficult to truly understand. I tend to have a fairly analytic way of thinking, and the purely spiritual is frequently harder for me to embrace.
The part that resonates most with me, is the idea that while thinking of my dad I am saying this prayer while standing with a community; that among a kehilla of fellow Jews as witness, I am declaring with full voice my praise of God along with my prayer that God, and we, can help to improve the chances for perfection of the world. That we are called upon to fulfill the commandment of saying Kaddish only among a minyan is I would suggest a rather brilliant strategy to cause us to remember that we need each other.”
Now as I come to the close of the 11 months, I find that I am of two minds; first, that I have enjoyed a comforting notion of being “with” my father every day, and that this sense of comfort will soon be ending as I finish my experience of aveilut (mourning) and enter into a new stage of life with memories of my dad. And second, that I have been blessed to be able to enter so many minyanim, all around the world due to my extensive business travel, and participate and “daven for the amud” [lead the service].
Over these 11 months I have had a lot of time to think about how fortunate I am to feel comfortable to enter a shul anywhere; that my father (and mother, z”l) encouraged my Jewish education and introduced me to the multiplicity of options available to me as a Jew, enabling me to find my place in most any Jewish community. Sadly, while this is normal in the diaspora, many of our Israeli brethren hardly have such options. So few doors to access Judaism in the Jewish State; it seems hard to believe but it is fact.
So in my father’s memory, our family established The Honey Foundation for Israel. The foundation is aimed at opening more doors to Judaism in Israel by supporting and empowering the role of community rabbi. Rabbis are our leaders and can help Jews to become more engaged in Jewish life. Rabbis can inspire Jews at both our most difficult times, and our most joyful moments. Unfortunately in Israel, the word rabbi for many Israelis has become a pejorative, referring to a state bureaucrat instead of a teacher and spiritual guide. The Honey Foundation for Israel seeks to help change that sad perception.
I am inspired by the midrash of Abraham and Sarah’s tent being at the crossroads of the main north-south and east-west roads in Israel, with the four openings of their tent facing each of the roads. Avraham and Sarah could see their guests coming, and their guests in turn could see the open, welcoming nature of our first Jewish family. Our dream is that like their tent, and like the chuppah modeled after their tent; Judaism in Israel will become ever more open and easily accessible. All Jews in Israel should be able to enter the tent from any road on which they walk, and our community rabbis should become incented and motivated to go out and welcome our fellow Jews into their tent, their home in Judaism.
Jack “Honey” Lipsey (z”l) would have liked this open tent. He would be proud to have his name, even his nickname, connected to Israel and to the hope for a future of Jewish meaning led by strong and empowered community rabbis. My hope is that through work of The Honey Foundation, along with my family, I will be blessed to feel my father’s presence in the years to come as readily as I have felt him these past 11 months.
William Lipsey is president of Pzena Investment Management in New York.